Chinese workers played critical roles in building Tioga Road and Wawona Road at Yosemite National Park. Now, a building originally used as a laundry by Chinese workers at Yosemite’s Wawona Hotel has been restored and turned into a historical attraction recognizing their work at the park.
The building is one of several that now make up the new Pioneer Yosemite History Center, which “tells the histories of immigrants who made the park what it is today.” Last week, officials unveiled a sign in front of the building, formally marking it as the Chinese Laundry Building. New exhibits inside the building explain the contributions of Chinese workers in Yosemite.
“Chinese people have been a big part of communities throughout the Sierra Nevada for a really long time, and it’s about time that we started sharing that history here in Yosemite,” Park Ranger Adam Ramsey says in an Associated Press article.
History Of Chinese Workers
Much of what’s known about the role Chinese workers played in developing Yosemite is thanks to research conducted by Yenyen Chan.
Chan first learned about Chinese history in Yosemite when she worked in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows as a park intern. Years later, when Chan was a park ranger, she was asked to lead a Yosemite Association program focused on the history of Chinese workers in the park. She eagerly agreed to join the project and began her research.
You can learn more about Chan’s research and Yosemite’s Chinese history here.
There’s even a video with Chan discussing work done by Chinese immigrants at Yosemite. You can watch that video, titled “Chinese History in Yosemite” here.
According to Chan’s research, many Chinese immigrants first traveled to California during the Gold Rush. Many of those workers were already skilled in construction, engineering, agriculture, and medicine, she explains.
Perhaps most remarkable is that in 1883, those Chinese workers helped build the 56-mile Tioga Road in just 130 days. The road through the Sierra Nevada mountains, which at some points reaches an elevation of 10,000 feet, is still one of Yosemite’s main roads.
Members of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California have supported efforts to renovate what is now the Chinese Laundry Building for years. Credit for the contributions of Chinese workers is long overdue, but they are pleased the building is now included in the Pioneer Yosemite Historical Center.
“Something like this really resonates with a lot of people in my generation,” Eugene Moy, a past president of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, said in the Associated Press article. “We’ve been here since the 1870s, so to be able to see this has deep meaning, because a lot of us, oftentimes, are relegated to the margins. We aren’t always perceived as being full-fledged Americans when the reality is that [Chinese] people have been here for three, four, five generations, for 150 years.”
Know Before you Go
The Pioneer Yosemite History Center features several historic structures from different eras of Yosemite’s history. Originally built in different locations throughout Yosemite, they were moved to Wawona in the 1950s and 1960s. The center is open year-round.
You can access the complex by parking in the Wawona Store and Pioneer Gift Shop parking lot, on the Wawona Road (Highway 41), near the Wawona Hotel.
Pro Tips: Paths within the complex have a dirt surface. An accessible restroom is located near the parking lot.
You can find more information about the Pioneer Yosemite History Center here.
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